The Way of the Cross – Lenten Season 2018
“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said, “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.”
“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.”
“Any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.”
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear” (Luke 14: 23-27, 33-35 NIV).
The Cost of Discipleship 2
Do you have ears to hear? I hope so. This is important. Discipleship is serious business. Many churchgoers will simply not make it to glory because they did not take discipleship seriously. Yes, it is an expression of your walk with God and not a pre-requisite for salvation, but it is still pretty serious stuff since the expression of your life is evidence of what is within. If the quality of your walk with God does not look something like what Jesus expects, then shouldn’t you ask yourself whether or not your weak-kneed, half-hearted attempts at church work is more an expression of a religious spirit than true discipleship? This is the “heavy” stuff and Jesus is pretty blunt about what he expects from us if we want to follow him. Otherwise just go home.
This is where most of us get hung up. On the idea that there are still expectations in our relationship with God (and Christ). There may be “no condemnation” but that doesn’t mean that there are “no expectations.”
Think about it for a moment. My wife is the same way. She loves me. She married me. She knows me. She does not condemn me in the least. She is my best friend. She is full of grace toward me and forgives me when I need forgiving. We both focus on making sure we are fully reconciled with God and with each other as much as possible. But that doesn’t mean that she doesn’t have any expectations from our relationship.
Normally we don’t talk about those expectations too much. We are supposed to know them already. The important ones have to do with love. She expects that I want to be home with her as much as possible, not filling up all my time with work and friends in the bar. She expects me to help around the house. We have a rough idea of who normally does what, but if the dishes need to be done, I do them. If the bed needs to be made and she is right there, she does it. There is also an expectation of going above and beyond the normal. When she is tired, I am more attentive. When I am working in my office, she doesn’t intrude with small things that can easily wait. Even how we talk to each other has expectations. We aren’t rude or condescending to each other. We like to talk about things that are important to us, like our children, our jobs, the church, education, our projects and so on. I’m interested in what she thinks and she is interested in my thoughts on things. Of course. That’s what love is.
With God, things are a bit more complicated. The best way to explain it is to continue our marriage metaphor. What happens when a “player,” who is used to “playing the field” when it comes to women, who is rather selfish and narcisistic gets married. Perhaps his life experiences as a child and young person was devoid of the social conditioning that teaches you the expectations and wonders of love between a man and a woman. Attachment theory tells us that if there were no strong attachments when a child is young, their ability to love as an adult is severely limited. But whatever the reason, sometimes (or many times) you get the situation where a young couple simply doesn’t know how to love one another. Their expectations are not realistic or they take the normal “give and take” of a relationship as an obligation and they end up fighting about everything. It takes a bit of experience to learn to live with someone else. Usually “love covers over a multitude of sins” (I Peter 4:8 NIV) but sometimes those sins just boil over into a multitude of problems.
In other words, we don’t always know how to love each other very well. And it is even worse when it comes to God (and Christ). Throughout the Bible, God calls us “adulterers” because we are often unfaithful. He calls us “prostitutes” because we often run after other gods, other love interests. These are strong words but quite accurate when it comes to our relationship with God (as individuals but also as a church). We all know what love is in general, but not necessarily what it is in our relationship with God.
It is not optional but rather exclusive. To be holy means to be set apart for sacred purposes, to be set apart for a sacred relationship. We have been made holy by the blood of Christ who died for us. We do not belong to ourselves any longer but to him who has saved us by his grace. The problem is that we still want to be “single” and sometimes even to “play the field,” obeying when we feel like it, distracted when we are bored, flirting with our favorite other love interests, and generally not all that emotionally involved at home with God.
So, the expectations are high even though there is no condemnation. And yes, if we truly loved God, it would be automatic and simple (like it will be in Heaven). Jesus had that attitude toward his Father. It was his food and drink to do His will. It was worth his life to please his Father. Many people think that Jesus died on the cross because he loved us. And it’s true. But even more true is the fact that Jesus died on the cross when he really, really didn’t want to (remember the anguish in the Garden of Gethsemane) but did it anyway out of obedience to his Father. He chose obedience over fellowship as the best expression of love and trust in his Father’s will for him. And we must follow that same example.
So, yes, the expectations are high. And, yes, the expectations are a bit unusual, a bit serious, a bit intense, a bit scary for the level of love we are used to. But the situation demands such expectations. Just as in marriage, when there is cancer or a car accident or some sort of danger or tragedy, there are higher expectations that naturally come in those situations whether that be for a spouse, or a child or a relative or a friend……or even a brother or sister in Christ. Or even God.
God must be first before all other love interests. And this cannot be only words, it must be found in your actions (just like marriage), in how you spend your money (just like marriage) and in how you spend your time and talent (just like marriage). Why are we surprised that God expects love from us, and defines that love in terms of exclusivity and priority. He is God after all.
Not to say that there aren’t a lot of benefits to learning to love God this way, this intensly, this seriously (just like marriage). There are wonderful blessings, great joy and satisfaction, peace beyond understanding, purpose enough for any life and significance in joint ministry. Our meaning in life is caught up with our identity, purpose and significance in our relationships with others. How much more, then, will we gain true meaning in life when we follow God with all our hearts, souls, minds and strength.
Don’t you know that all the best thing in life are difficult?
If you knew what difficulties there were in marriage beforehand, you probably wouldn’t get married (and you would lose all of the wonderful benefits as well). If you knew what problems, pain and suffering awaited you in having children (for women and for men), you probably wouldn’t bother (and many don’t). But you would also lose out on some of the greatest joys and blessings that life can offer. Yes, they can reject you. Yes, they can get sick and die. Yes, the pain can be unbearable. That’s the way love is in this dark and dangerous world full of sin and rebellion, of hatred and stupidity, of temptations and evil. Love can hurt deeply. But love can also bring joy. They can love you to pieces. They can get married and gift you with wonderful grandchildren. They can be baptized and follow the Lord with honest enthusiasm. But there are no guarantees. Much depends on whether you, yourself, follow the Lord with honest enthusiasm. When you love someone, you give them the power to hurt you as well as bless you.
God will not hurt you. He wants to bless you. You are the child, often rebellious, wanting your own way, not sure of the path and not wanting to follow anyone but yourself. You are loved and so you hold the power to “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 4:30 NIV) or to please Him. That is the risk he is taking, that every Father (and Mother) takes. Are you surprised?
Now read the passage again. “You cannot be my disciples,” Jesus says three times, unless you take it seriously. How? First, you must make me the most important person in your life (the word “hate” is just hyperbole). Second, you must let me lead. You are the follower. You need to do things my way (the way of the cross). And third, it’s not just about people but about things. You must be willing to give up everything to follow me. Everything in your life (including you, your family, your reputation) belongs to me. Everything (your home, your talents, your money, your time) needs to be used for the gospel and building the kingdom of God not in building your own kingdom.
My wife says the same thing (almost). She doesn’t even have to say it. I already know it. First, she must be more important to me than any other woman. I must even forsake my family and become one with her (Genesis 2:24), start a new life with her, a new family, a new home. Of course. Second, there is a new way of doing things. Between her and me it isn’t so much about who is leading and who is following. It depends on our gifts and interests more than gender or roles. But that is just us. The point is that there is a new way of doing things that is appropriate to the relationship. With God, he must lead and we must follow. He has a specific way of doing things based on the work of Christ on the cross. My wife’s dreams and projects have become my own. And my dreams and projects and purpose in life, she shares with me. It’s the same with God. Once again, you would say “of course.”
Third, my wife gets half of everything that I own. Just kidding. That only happens when you get divorced. When you are married, she gets everything. And you are happy to give it to her. Sure, she shares it back with you. You might buy the food, but she cooks it and you get to enjoy it as well. In marriage, she also gives everything to you and you both give everything to the kids. There is nothing that I have that she cannot use, in fact, I don’t even like saying the words “that I have.” It’s not true. It’s always about what “we have together.” The same with God. Everything that I have belongs to him and it all needs to find a purpose in the Kingdom of God.
I give up everything to Him every Sunday morning in church and he gives me back 80 to 90 percent for my use in my ministry in and from my home. If my home and family are a key part of my ministry (not just to each other but together focused outward) then I also need resources to cover the expenses of that ministry. That is my stewardship.
Why should God be any different in his expectations of what love is? Jesus does not want a naive, religious or half-hearted commitment that expects only the benefits but does not want to enter into the difficulties and challenges of the ministry. I am uncomfortable with Pastors who preach a prosperity gospel. My focus is on the desert. I want to learn to be a desert warrior of faith. Not that there aren’t blessings in the desert, there are. Many. All of the best stuff happened to the people of God in the desert.
You can see it as “heavy,” or intense or serious, but life is often that way. Lives are at stake. A great rescue operation is underway. A serious un-natural disaster (called suffering and death) has invaded the Garden of Eden (at our invitation) and God is trying to save as many as He can. Will we heed the call to follow Him and join in the ministry of salvation, the ministry of reconciliation? That is the Cost of Discipleship. Love. Letting God be God in our lives. Whatever the cost.
The Desert Warrior
P.S. Let’s talk to God and tell Him how much we love Him…
Lord, I love you. I’m not very good at it but I understand the basics. I’m still learning to love my spouse and kids (and in-laws) so it doesn’t surprise me that I have a lot to learn about loving you. I will let you lead. I will let you be God and I will be your child. Even if you lead me into the desert, I know it is because you are taking me out of slavery and into the freedom of being a true son of God. Thank you, Lord. I will follow. In Jesus name I pray. Amen.
Read more (from the Temptations of the Cross)
Tundrac was pleased with himself. He had found a weak link, a small opening in the protection around Jesus. He laughed deliriously with glee, relief sweeping over him. He had thought Jesus to be invincible, but like all great leaders he, too, had his weak spot. His own kindness would do him in.
One of his messengers had come back with the news that Judas Iscariot, part of the inner ring of disciples closest to Jesus, had been seen taking money from the treasury for his own use.
Thievery, thought Tundrac, how can I use that? (Read more….)